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A “Rightly Timed Pause”

“The right word may be effective but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause.” Mark Twain

I like this quote a lot. It is a reminder to me that we are “at choice” when it comes to when and how we engage in conflict. That is, often the best response when someone upsets us with things they say or do is to take a “rightly timed pause”. This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog invites you to consider when and how to use pauses.

Let’s consider the definition first. Dictionary-wise there are several definitions and I’ll refer to this one: “a temporary stop or rest, especially in speech or action”.

This way of describing pause is relevant to the point of this blog because it implies intention, choice and emotional regulation – three important ingredients of effective conflict management. The trick is, of course, to learn to stop ourselves when we are triggered and usually react to our detriment. At these times, we often go too quickly to blame, to defensiveness, and to other responses that do not help the situation.

If you tend to react, consider the questions below by bringing to mind a specific dispute in which you reacted without pausing.

  • What was the situation?
  • How did you react that you wished you hadn’t?
  • What specifically seemed to propel you to react?
  • What emotions were you experiencing?
  • What thoughts came to your head?
  • If you had paused, rather than reacted, what would a “pause” actually look like?
  • What would you have to be thinking that would be different from your thoughts when you reacted?
  • What emotions might you draw on to make the pause easier?
  • Once you paused, what might you have said or done that would be less reactive?
  • What do you suppose makes it hard to “pause” and think before reacting, in ways you would rather not, when someone offends you?
  • What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?
  • What insights do you have?
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What I Learned About Conflict From Cheetahs

This blog is a little different from my previous ones, since I’d like to share a story based on my travels to Africa. (Many thanks to www.mediate.com who also published this article.)

 

 by Cinnie Noble, from Otjiwarongo, Namibia
(Cheetah Conservation Fund International Research and Education Centre)

Recently, I had the privilege and joy of travelling to South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe. It was a tremendous journey in so many ways, including that, for me, travel is transformative and a great equalizer. That is, in middle of the desert and savannahs, and in big and small cities – far from home – it feels we are defined only by our presence in the moment. (I try to hold onto this feeling as long as possible!)

Whenever I travel I learn so much, too, and every day since my return I recall something that touched me in some way. It will come as no surprise that I would be attuned to the word conflict – even in my travels. And this article is about a conflict I became aware of between humans and cheetahs.

Cheetahs are known as the world’s fastest land animal and as the oldest and most unique of the big cats of Africa. Reportedly, their ancestors appeared on earth more than four million years ago – before lions and leopards. Unfortunately, the numbers of these magnificent cats have dwindled as to be near extinct and apparently, they are extinct in 25 of the 45 countries where they have lived over the last 60 years. One reason attributed for this is due to the conflict between humans and them.

This particular conflict was identified in Namibia by Dr. Laurie Marker, an American conducting research in Africa since 1977. She saw a need to save cheetahs, attributing their decline in numbers to their loss of habitat, loss of prey and indiscriminate killing by farmers who viewed them as vermin and a threat to their livestock.

Through remarkable programs to assure the cheetah’s place on our earth, Dr. Marker set out to ensure they could live harmoniously with humans. And thankfully, the amazing initiatives she and her team of interns and volunteers (and some staff) implemented through the Cheetah Conservation Fund (CCF) have significantly increased the number of cheetahs in Namibia.

A few of the programs that have reduced the conflict include educating farmers through research about the prey that kill their animals and that, contrary to their assumptions, the predators are not cheetahs. The CCF also breed, train and monitor livestock guard dogs as a means of non-lethal control and prevention of indiscriminate killing. The dogs do not herd livestock, but rather they stand between the flocks and predators. They bark to scare them off, and if that doesn’t work the dogs attack them. To date, over 600 dogs have been bred and placed with farmers leading to reportedly over 80% reduction in livestock losses.

In view of what I learned about the conflict between humans and cheetahs in Namibia, here are 10 lessons I was reminded of about conflict:

  1. It takes only one ‘party’ to be in conflict and blame another or others for something for which they are not necessarily responsible.
  2. When we gain an understanding about the issues in dispute and those we blame, we are less likely to attack and attribute fault.
  3. Making assumptions about others’ motives is lethal and creates unnecessary conflict.
  4. The perception that core values and needs are threatened, challenged or undermined often underlies the reasons we react to others.
  5. By supporting disputing parties in constructive ways, conflict is reduced.
  6. We are not always aware that or when we are perceived as a threat.
  7. New strategies and positive outcomes occur when we are able to examine the validity of our perceptions and assumptions, and be open to different perspectives and ways of managing situations.
  8. Sometimes an aggrieved party to a conflict lacks agency and the ability to speak for themselves. In these cases, it is necessary to provide a voice for them, to support them and intervene on their behalf.
  9. Sometimes when we perceive others as threats to our wellbeing – and even view them as fierce predators – they are not actually so, and their need for survival and to be understood matches our own.
  10. To be able to live harmoniously on our planet depends, in large part, on finding mutually acceptable solutions, despite our differences.

I’d be curious to learn what other lessons you have learned about conflict from animals?

by Cinnie Noble, from Karongwe Park, South Africa

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Walking On Eggshells

Have you ever had the experience of “walking on eggshells” around another person? Or, someone has said that’s what it’s like for them – about you?

The origin of this idiom is not clearly known (from what I researched), but it may have evolved from the older idiom “walking on eggs” which presents a difficult situation of avoiding damage while walking on a delicate object.

Generally-speaking that’s how most of us understand the expression “walking on eggshells”. That is, when any of us “walk on eggshells” we are being very careful not to offend someone or do anything wrong. In fact, we might make an effort to be diplomatic, careful and inoffensive.

The following definitions are relevant:

  • To be overly careful in dealing with a person or situation because they get angry or offended very easily; to try very hard not to upset someone or something; and
  • To be careful and sensitive in handling very sensitive matters.

If you feel this way about someone or know someone feels this way about you, here are some Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) to consider:

If you feel you are “walking on eggshells” around someone, what precipitated this dynamic, as far as you know?

What specifically are you afraid of or concerned could happen?

If that happened (your answer to the above question), how would that be worse than what is going on in the relationship now?

If that happened, how would that be better than what is going on in the relationship now?

How might you describe what you would prefer to “walk on” with this person?

If you sense or know someone feels they “walk on eggshells” around you, why do you know or suppose that is?

What are you gaining from the dynamic between you in these situations? What are you losing from the dynamic between you in these situations?

What might she or he fear or be most concerned about relating to you?

How realistic is it that you might react the way the other person fears?

What would you prefer this person feel like around you?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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Do You Freeze When in Conflict?

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is extracted, in part, from “Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You”.

What does freezing mean in the context of conflict? Freezing is one reaction to being provoked during a conflict—fighting and fleeing are two other common responses. It has been suggested that freezing is different from “being stuck”. This suggestion is based on the notion that being stuck is a more transient state of being during conflict, whereas freezing, as it is described here, is more like being unable to engage at all when provoked. That is, freezing is immobilizing.

Freezing may be a reaction to conflict that reflects helplessness and powerlessness to know what to say or do. It may be a fear response, a shutdown of our usual skills and ability to process information and emotions, or both. It may be a matter of becoming cold internally or toward the other person (or both) as a way to stave off tension and the depth of our emotions.

These and other ways in which freezing affects us have a huge impact on the course our interpersonal conflicts take and the outcomes. In an effort to thaw out a freeze response, it helps to deconstruct what is happening at the times when we freeze or the other person does so. The following questions facilitate such a process.

Try to imagine a conflict when you froze. How would you describe what freezing was like?

What specifically felt “frozen” for you?

What impact did your freezing have on the other person? How did freezing affect the specific conflict interaction?

With what would you want to replace freezing in the context of this conflict? What would be different about the interaction if that occurred?

If you do not want to thaw out, why is that so?

How do you describe what you have observed when the other person in a conflict with you freezes? What is the impact on you at these times?

How do you suppose you might help the other person in a conflict interaction to thaw out, if you want or wanted to? What difference might that make?

Generally, what positive outcomes come from freezing? What not so positive ones?

Generally, when you have reacted to being provoked in other conflict interactions—without freezing—what was different in that situation or those situations? What did you do differently? What different outcomes resulted?

What learning might you apply from your previous experiences (your answer to the question above) in the future? What else do you think it would take for you to thaw out, if you wanted to, when you freeze in response to a conflict?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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Do You Criticize?

This week’s Conflict Mastery Quest(ions) blog is extracted, in part, from “Conflict Mastery: Questions to Guide You”.

Criticism takes different forms and tends to exacerbate conflict and derail conversations, preventing them from evolving in a productive manner. Examples may be finding fault when others’ viewpoints do not suit us or our opinions. Name-calling, put-downs, “dirt-throwing,” and otherwise blaming people for their ideas, actions, personality, and so on, are also forms of criticism. Similarly, criticizing may be demonstrated by micromanaging, and by continually correcting things others say or do. Having a dismissive attitude, and being sarcastic, belittling, controlling, patronizing, and condescending, may all be experienced as criticism, too. Sometimes we do not criticize verbally, but our facial and body language speak for us.

For some of us, criticizing is a strategy for maintaining control or managing hurt, anger, and other emotions. We may criticize when we experience push-back of our perspectives. We may choose criticism to be in control, to make our point, to “win” a disagreement, or to undermine the other person and her or his opinions, needs, beliefs, and interests. Criticizers themselves may lack self-esteem and be self-critical, and criticizing others makes them feel more powerful. Or, we may genuinely dispute another person’s perspective, or how she or he is acting, and choose criticism instead of more conflict-masterful approaches.

By criticizing—however we do it—we may be seen as demonstrating intolerance, judgmentalism, lack of flexibility, and a need to be right. Criticizers also seem to have trouble separating the person from the real crux of the situation, adding to the negative dynamic. This means our differences become increasingly personal. It often seems, when this happens, that criticism breeds criticism. Inevitably, we then both spiral downward in our interaction.

If you tend to criticize during a conflict or have done so in a specific situation and if someone has criticized you in a conflict, this is an opportunity to explore your reaction further.

When you consider the last time you criticized someone during a conflict, what was the conflict? About what, specifically, were you being critical?

What bothered you most about the other person’s actions, words, and so on that resulted in your criticism? What were you experiencing at the time (feeling, thinking) about the other person?

What, specifically, did you say by way of criticizing? How did the other person respond?

If the other person became defensive in response to your criticism, what did you hear her or him defend?

What were you aiming to accomplish with your criticism? How did you succeed in doing so? What did you not achieve that you had hoped to?

What did you need or want the other person to say or do in that situation instead that you would not have criticized? How would you have interacted differently with her or him in that case?

If you were to frame your criticism as a request, how would that sound?

When you consider a situation in which someone criticized you during a conflict, what was that like for you? (If this happened in the same situation just discussed, it may be helpful to use that example here.) What do you suppose the other person needed or wanted from you at the time that you were not delivering?

What request might the other person have made of you pertaining to the substance of the criticism that you would have been less likely to react negatively to? How might you have responded differently in this case?

Looking back now on your answers to the above questions, what two new things have you learned, or been reminded of, about the use of criticism?

What else occurs to you as you consider these questions?

What insights do you have?

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